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Protecting the child dancer. (On Education).

A BIG PART OF LIFE IS ABOUT MAKING CHOICES; SOMETIMES THEY ARE EASY AND OTHER TIMES THEY BECOME REALLY TOUGH DECISIONS. AS DANCE TEACHERS THE CHOICES WE MAKE CONCERNING OUR SCHOOLS can have an enormous influence on the children who dance through them.

Consider the teacher from Anytown, America, who must select the music for an 8-year-old dancer's solo. She has two choices: One is "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast and the other is a cut from a new Madonna album. To me, there is no choice--"Be Our Guest" it is. The dancer is 8 and should be performing to music that she can relate to and is age appropriate. I think the majority would agree with me. However, in my travels I am witnessing children who are too young to be dancing to the music choices of their teachers or choreographers. I consider it an epidemic right now.

The problem isn't only the choice of music, but the costuming and movement as well. Seeing 8-year-old dancers in Lycra bras and panties covered with rhinestones strutting across the stage like they're well-trained exotic dancers is offensive to me. These performances are not age appropriate or what teaching dance is all about. The teachers who make what I consider the wrong choices are not only hurting their dancers but are giving private-sector dance education a bad name.

I often wonder why the parents of these children are not outraged at the dance teachers. Some seem to consider other studios' choreography inappropriate but appear to be blinded when it comes to their own child's performances. I've come to the conclusion that parents believe their child's teacher is a professional who knows what he or she is doing, therefore the parents believe it must be OK to see their children gyrating in bras and panties onstage. They are the same parents who are paying $50 to $75 for big blonde wigs for their children to wear with their suggestive costumes. What's funny about this is that if you asked those parents to spend the same amount of money on a set of master classes, they would tell you that they couldn't afford it.

I just witnessed an entire class of twenty-four dancers wearing those wigs. It looked to me like twenty-four Dolly Partons, without her assets! First of all, the black and Asian dancers looked ridiculous; then one of the wigs flew off one of the dancer's heads. The children were tripping over it and kicking it all over the stage. By the time the piece was over, five dancers had lost their wigs. Not only should they not have been wearing them, but the audience wasn't watching the performance; they were watching those wigs flying all over the stage and were laughing at the children. I was embarrassed for the dancers and for the dance-teaching profession.

Often, this type of choreography is coming from the younger teachers who have grown up watching a couple of decades of MTV. They think it's cool to imitate the MTV style or choreography and because they do, so do their dancers. What's not being thought about is the fact that the dancers on MTV are adults who are trained professionals, not little children from Anytown, America.

This epidemic is especially frustrating for me because I spend a lot of time communicating with the K-12 and higher-education sectors of the dance community. I'm constantly defending the private sector. I explain that what goes on in our studios has a positive influence on more than three million children across the United States. I remind them that we are inspiring the next generation of dancers or those who are going to support dance in the future. I am confident that 95 percent of these teachers are conscientious and make appropriate choices for their students, but the other 5 percent seem to be doing everything they can to give those who criticize the private sector the ammunition they need.

If you participate in dance competitions and take the chance of choosing the Madonna song for the 8-year-old, and you offend the judges, are you doing justice to your dancer? It's likely that no one is going to be offended by a child dancing to "Be Our Guest." In fact, I think most judges would think it's the perfect choice.

In a world where children are continually exposed to sexually explicit advertising, television, movies, and even video games, I would like to see dance training have a sense of wholesomeness. There are those who may argue that I am old fashioned (at age 40), but there are literally billions of choices for music or concepts available for today's dance teachers that wouldn't offend anyone. Why not consider the uncontroversial options rather than taking a chance that you could compromise a child?

Dance Magazine columnist Rhee Gold is co-founder of Project Motivate, which sponsors retreats and seminars to reinvigorate dance educators.
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Author:Gold, Rhee
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:823
Previous Article:Advice for dancers.
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